Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tarzan the Tiger

I've been watching the old Tarzan the Tiger serial the last couple of days. I can't watch serials in big chunks, because all the cliffhangers and recaps start getting repetitive after a few episodes, but if I can watch an episode at a time and then come back later for the next one, they're a lot of fun.

There are some problems with Tarzan the Tiger though. First of all, tigers don't live in Africa, so his nickname is dumb, but they also show a tiger responding to his Tarzan yell at one point, so maybe they just don't care. Kids in the '20s probably didn't know any better. Still, it's dumb.

Worse than that though is Tarzan's goofy headband and the fact that he wears fur loafers when he's running around the jungle. I've also been watching Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan the Ape Man and Johnny didn't need no loafers. Johnny was damn near naked, as Tarzan should be. Tarzan the Tiger (Frank Merrill) wears one of those over-the-shoulder furs too. That and his cute, little, bob haircut make him look kinda frilly. He does carry a rope though, like Tarzan does in the books, so that's pretty cool.

Jane isn't any big shakes either. I'm only three episodes in, but she started the serial off by whining that Tarzan's plan to steal a bunch of gold from the lost city of Opar was too dangerous and nagging him not to go. She did manage to escape from some slave traders all by her lonesome though -- and exchanged her harem outfit for some hot, jungle-girl furs in the process -- so she's not all bad either.

It's still way too soon to pass judgment on this thing, but even with the silly Tarzan and his shrewish wife, the story is good so far. I also like that -- unlike Johnny's version -- this Tarzan is the educated Lord Greystoke from the novels. I'll probably post again about it once I'm further in.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dark Crystal manga postponed

A long time ago I posted about a manga series based on the Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal. It was scheduled to come out "in early 2007." That was later narrowed down to March, but the series has now been pushed back to November 13th due to what its editor calls the "extremely collaborative" nature of the project.

That's too bad because now that I've seen the cover art I'm even more excited to check out the book, which is going to be a prequel to the movie.

Pulp Strip du Jour: Space Girl

Okay, the Pulp Strip du Jour idea didn't go over how I'd planned. There was just too much going on last week to let me stay focused on it. What should have been Friday's strip though was Travis Charest's (WildC.A.T.S.) Space Girl. His ink work on it is fantastic and he knows how to create imaginative settings and express action.

It's too bad I was so late in posting this one, because I really was saving the best for last.

Writing is Hard: Project Update

I haven't done a project update here in a while, but someone asked me in the comments on the LiveJournal feed for this blog what I've been up to, so I'll share it here too.

A little over a year ago I put aside a pirate novel I was working on called (tentatively) Le Corsaire. I wasn't really happy with how it was going, but I wasn't sure why, so I decided to focus on other stuff for a while.

One of those things was the Robots vs. Monsters comic I'm doing with Jason Copland, which has been an educational experience for me. The editor on that book, Jason Rodriguez, showed me that I was holding myself way back on the action. I'd wanted to make sure that the story was strong, but I'd sacrificed a lot of the coolness factor to do it. Once I realized that I was doing it on the comic, I understood a big piece of what was wrong with Le Corsaire.

I've always been pretty comfortable writing dialogue scenes. I think I'm good at it and they come pretty easily. Action, on the other hand, I have to stop and think about. Folks who've read "Completely Cold" tell me that they like the action in it, but I've got to choreograph that stuff out in my head. I imagine the entire fight or chase scene in slow motion and describe it as it's happening. I think it works out okay when I'm done, but it's a long, slow process and I don't particularly enjoy it. As a result, Le Corsaire tended to jump from dialogue scene to dialogue scene while skipping over most of the action. In fact, the place where I put it aside was right before a big pirate attack that I just did not want to have to choreograph. It's a crucial scene, so I knew I couldn't skip it, but I didn't want to have to write it either, so I stalled out.

What I've learned from Robots vs. Monsters is that I can have fun choreographing and writing action. I don't need to let it overwhelm me. So, I'm picking up Le Corsaire again with the intention of having the first draft done by the end of May. I'm going to have to re-work a lot of what I've already written, but now I know how to make it the book I want it to be. I mean, who ever heard of a pirate story without any action?

I've also figured out the other thing that was bothering me about Le Corsaire when I put it down. I was working too closely to my outline. Or maybe it was that my outline was too detailed. Either way, I wasn't leaving myself enough room for sudden inspiration and it was taking a lot of the fun out of the experience. This time, I have a basic idea of where the story is headed and I'm just going to write in that general direction and see what the journey looks like once I get there.

As far as Robots vs. Monsters goes, it's almost completely inked. I wish I could share some of Jason's stuff with you here, but you're gonna have to wait until it comes out. It's awesome though. It's got giant monsters, giant robots, airplane dogfights, a hidden jungle city, and a flawed, but sympathetic hero with an impossible goal to achieve. And did I mention unbelievable art? Oh, and a new name. This is subject to change again, but for now the working title is Kill All Monsters!.

It's weird how things work, but as I've been thinking over the problems with Le Corsaire and changing titles on the comic like I change clothes, I've also been running across posts on writing blogs that deal with a lot of these same issues. If you're interested, here are the links:

On the need to start stories with some action, instead of boring backstory.
"Splat splat splat. You've got a big fat wad of information in the first part -- a dreaded prologue I fear. First of all, no one talks like that. Shorter sentences will help. Second, you've told us there's a corpse, then you go back to Boston to let us know that Zoe is on her way to Sydney in six months?? I KNEW that. Get to the story. Prune ruthlessly."

Another opinion on where to start your story. (Just to show there's never any, one, right answer.)
"There is/used to be a thought that you should always start the story where the action is -- which lead to a lot of stories being started in the wrong place. Like, in the midst of a heated argument or at a really sensitive scene -- which sounds like it would be ok, but more often than not we are interested in heated/sensitive scenes because we feel a connection with the character. If that's how your story begins, it is often harder for the reader to get that connection right away -- even if it's a scene designed to make the character seem more sympathetic. Usually you should back up the story a little bit -- and start earlier."

On balancing dialogue with action.
"...have you mistaken dialogue for action or scene building or for characterization? Remember, there has to be a balance. It can’t be all dialogue at the sacrifice of the other stuff. Some folks are great dialoguers. Don’t rely on your strength to carry a whole novel."

On titles.
"Decent titles take a while to cook up, so I generally use place-holder or working titles until I read a couple tons of poetry, hit the Library of Congress Online Catalog a few million times to see if any of my title ideas have been done before, and settle on the one I want. It doesn't have to be the title, just a title."

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Wookiee Strikes Back

Comics journalist/creator Chris Arrant posted a link in his blog to this article that reinterprets the original Star Wars trilogy in light of the prequels. I just did something like that myself, but this writer is a lot more coherent than I was.

I don't think that his conclusions are necessarily the inevitable ones, but I like them. Especially since they make my two favorite Star Wars characters, Chewie and Artoo, into the real heroes of the Rebellion.

Writing is Hard: Business planning

I hate thinking about the business side of writing, but I'm also an overly organized twit and this article about planning your writing year has good advice about setting goals and whatnot. It's all customizable, but I especially like her advice about creating an agency/publisher submission list while you're still writing your novel, and her suggestion for an annual "New Endeavor Goal."

"This is optional. In my business plan, I include one new endeavor goal and one outrageous goal every year. A new endeavor goal, for example, can be anything from writing in a new genre to publishing a promotional e-book. Outrageous goals are things that are usually beyond my means and/or present capabilities, like buying the Hope Diamond or running over to borrow a cup of sugar from Stuart MacBride. I almost always nail the new endeavor goal (six out of seven so far), and almost never the outrageous one (one out of seven to date), but it adds a nice incentive for me to work a little harder and budget myself a little better. One can only depend on so many job offers for work as a jungle-combat mercenary."

She also has a suggested budget for the year that includes stuff that I ordinarily don't think about like printer paper and Internet access. Well worth reading.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Link du Jour: Pulp Fiction Reviews

Another link from my friend Joe. This one is a blog by Ron Fortier called Pulp Fiction Reviews. It's exactly what it sounds like, only Ron reviews modern day, pulp-inspired novels, as opposed to ancient stuff you've got to scour used book stores to find.

Ron knows what he's talking about too, by the way, when he reviews this kind of stuff. I've mentioned him a couple of times before in relation to pulp projects he's written, but he's also written pulp comics like The Green Hornet.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

I'm learning that old, silent movie adaptations of books are generally a lot more faithful to their source material than modern ones are. That's not true of Lon Chaney movies for some reason (at least, not Phantom of the Opera or Hunchback of Notre Dame), but it is of Peter Pan and I understand that it is of Tarzan of the Apes. And it pretty much is with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Jules Verne's novel has some great, pulpy elements to it like the submarine, its unhinged captain, the giant squid, and Atlantis. But I don't call it a pulp because, except for a couple of scenes, it's not at all fast-paced or exciting. It's a long, overly descriptive, chore-to-read travelogue. And unfortunately, the 1916 silent adaptation of it suffers from some of that as well.

Not only was underwater photography brand new in 1916, it was pretty much unheard of and 20,000 Leagues was the first movie to ever use it. They were pretty proud of that fact and even used film time to introduce the guys who developed the technique (and helped shoot the movie) before getting into the actual story. Because of that, there are some long underwater shots of nothing but fish and coral beds that reminded me of how tedious the novel is. I'm sure they were captivating to movie-goers in 1916, but they don't hold up today.

The shark scenes do though. Sharks are always cool and there are some shark scenes that I can't figure out how they pulled off without someone's getting killed. Stuff like deep-sea divers shooting at sharks and having the sharks charge the divers before being driven away by the guns. If that was trick photography or a special effect, Stephen Sommers needs to take notes from these guys. Actually, that's the way it was for a lot of stuff in the film. There's some pretty cool stuff in it, even by today's standards. (Not the octopus though. It was better than the one in Bride of the Monster, but just barely.)

The reason that I said 20,000 Leagues is "pretty" faithful to the novel is that it also incorporates the events from Verne's sequel The Mysterious Island. I haven't read that one yet, so I don't know how faithful the movie to it is, but it's an interesting experiment in that knowing the end to Verne's 20,000 Leagues, I'm sure that Mysterious Island can't take place after it, so it has to take place during it. The film tries to harmonize the two and that's an experiment I always find worth exploring, even if it doesn't end up working all that well. Where it goes wrong here is that even though Captain Nemo appears in both stories, his supporting cast is different in each. So, the movie starts out talking about Professor Arronax and Ned Land, but it just drops them a third of the way in to start telling you about the Mysterious Island characters. It's not an easy transition.

They should have just called the movie The Mysterious Island, because that part of it is a lot more interesting and exciting than the 20,000 Leagues stuff. The reason I haven't read The Mysterious Island yet is that I was so disappointed by 20,000 Leagues, but seeing this movie has encouraged me to give it a shot.

Three out of five sharks

Pulp Strip du Jour: Captain Spectre

The reason I'm doing this pulp-strip-a-day thing is because not only did Steve Canyon start this week, but also my pal Joe sent me a link to Captain Spectre. I haven't been completely through the archives yet, but I definitely appreciately the Commando Cody/Rocketeer inspiration.

Looking forward to digging more into this one.

Writing is Hard: Writing for the audience

Yesterday I briefly mentioned the subject of writing for the audience and promised that I'd go into more detail about it. There's not a lot of detail that needs exploring. Basically, the idea is that you write for yourself and then hope that other people like it too. You never ever start the process by trying to figure out what the readers want first.

Not only will that cause you to fail artistically, it's a stupid task because readers don't know themselves what they want. Oh, they think they do. But they don't. That's why I love the attitude that the Grey's Anatomy writers take towards their fans:

"...we read your comments – maybe not all of them but a lot of them – and sometimes we use them as a jumping off place for discussion in the room. Like, 'A lot of fans don’t like this character right now. Why is that?' ... Our discussions that are prompted by your feedback often lead us down interesting paths, but they never end with us going, 'Yeah, some of the fans don’t like that, we should just stop it.' Ever. Because it’s our to keep you on the edge of your seats, it’s our job to inspire you to write us in a feverish rage, it’s our job to sometimes piss you off and hopefully, always, to keep you coming back for more. "

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pulp Strip du Jour: Femme Noir

That last post turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, so this one'll be short. I gots other stuff to do. Besides, I've told you about this one before.

Today's pulp-inspired web comic is Christopher Mills' Supernatural Crime. It's actually three strips in one. There's Femme Noir, which is about a mysterious blonde vigilante; Brother Grimm, about a masked crime-fighter, and Nightmark, a monster hunter. They're pretty stock concepts, but Mills has a great feel for the pulp-style and writes some great stuff around them.

Writing is Hard: Expression and entertainment

I wish I could remember who led me to this article so's I can credit them, but I can't. It's long and literary and I admit that I was skimming at the end, but the thoughts in it are worth reading and thinking about.

The author Zadie Smith equates fiction writing to the revelation of the writer's personality. The better a writer you are, the better you're able to reveal yourself in your work.

"A writer's personality is his manner of being in the world: his writing style is the unavoidable trace of that manner. When you understand style in these terms, you don't think of it as merely a matter of fanciful syntax, or as the flamboyant icing atop a plain literary cake, nor as the uncontrollable result of some mysterious velocity coiled within language itself. Rather, you see style as a personal necessity, as the only possible expression of a particular human consciousness. Style is a writer's way of telling the truth."

I like the idea that style (a.k.a. "voice") is simply an extension of the writer's personality. It simplifies the process for me to remember that a big part of my job is to get out of my own way and write the way I see the world; not how I think someone else wants to see it.

Where Zadie and I disagree is when she starts talking about the responsibility of the reader to respond to fiction as an Expression of Self rather than Entertainment. As an artist, I appreciate her encouragement to express myself and her reluctance to define success by popular acceptance, but as a reader, I think she takes it too far.

"These days, when we do speak of literary duties, we mean it from the reader's perspective, as a consumer of literature. We are really speaking of consumer rights. By this measure the duty of writers is to please readers and to be eager to do so, and this duty has various subsets: the duty to be clear; to be interesting and intelligent but never wilfully obscure; to write with the average reader in mind; to be in good taste. Above all, the modern writer has a duty to entertain. Writers who stray from these obligations risk tiny readerships and critical ridicule. Novels that submit to a shared vision of entertainment, with characters that speak the recognisable dialogue of the sitcom, with plots that take us down familiar roads and back home again, will always be welcomed. This is not a good time, in literature, to be a curio. Readers seem to wish to be 'represented', as they are at the ballot box, and to do this, fiction needs to be general, not particular. In the contemporary fiction market a writer must entertain and be recognisable - anything less is seen as a failure and a rejection of readers."

The end of that line of thought is that readers have an equal responsibility to writers in the creation of successful literature.

"To respond to the ideal writer takes an ideal reader, the type of reader who is open enough to allow into their own mind a picture of human consciousness so radically different from their own as to be almost offensive to reason. The ideal reader steps up to the plate of the writer's style so that together writer and reader might hit the ball out of the park."

I think we're talking about two kinds of success here. She's talking about artistic success, and I agree that it's an important consideration. But I'm getting less and less patient with books that are supposed to be good for me and craving more and more books that just entertain the hell out of me. That doesn't mean that I'm trying to "debase" reading by aligning it with "the essentially passive experience of watching television," it just means that I want my time with a book to be well-spent. If a writer's style is an expression of his personality, I don't care how perfectly he communicates it. If he's got a lousy personality, I don't wanna spend time with it.

My job as an artist might end at Expressing My Personality, but I don't think my job as someone who hopes to make a living through his work does. An artist's job is simply to create art, but a professional writer has an added responsibility of entertaining the audience. That doesn't mean that I should ever write for the audience (more on that in another post), but it does mean that if the audience doesn't like what I've written I've no one to blame but myself. Blaming the audience for not meeting their responsibility as readers feels lazy to me. If I'm going to succeed as a professional writer, I've got to be honest in my style (i.e. my expression of my personality), but I've also got to tell an interesting story while I'm at it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pulp Strips du Jour: Steve Canyon and Red Kelso

Sorry about not posting yesterday. Had a little family emergency. Everyone's okay, but it had to be taken care of and kept me offline.

What I was going to post about was Humorous Maximus' launch of Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon strips online and how it's encouraged me to share some of my other favorite pulp-inspired web comics. I was gonna do one a day for the rest of the week, but since I'm a day behind now, I'll do two today.

So, in addition to the classic Steve Canyon, have a little Red Kelso by Gary Chaloner. I got hooked on Red back in the days when it was on AdventureStrips, a site that I still miss. Red Kelso is not only fun, it's well-written and suspenseful. Good stuff.
Hopefully, I'll be back up to speed tomorrow on posting. I've found some really good blogs for writers and I want to talk and/or ask you folks about some of the stuff I'm finding there.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Happy Raven Day!

Edgar Allan Poe was born 198 years ago today. Celebrate by entombing an enemy alive!

Poe's one of my favorites, so I find it interesting and sort of encouraging that he got his start in literature by writing reviews. According to Garrison Keillor, "He first made his name writing some of the most brutal book reviews ever published at the time. He was called the 'tomahawk man from the South.' He described one poem as 'an illimitable gilded swill trough,' and he said, '[Most] of those who hold high places in our poetical literature are absolute nincompoops.' He particularly disliked the work of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier."

To Read: The Oxford Murders

Another recommendation via Bookgasm. Guillermo Martinez' The Oxford Murders is a "high-minded mystery" about a murder that was predicted before it happened in a letter that contained "a time, an address and a bizarre symbol."

When a math legend decides that the symbol has mathematical origins, and another letter with a new symbol arrives, the story's protagonists determine to try and predict the next murder. It all sounds clever and fun, but what really got my attention is that it's a "compact" book at less than 200 pages. I'm becoming impatient with overly long, wordy books, and as Bookgasm's Rod Lott says, "it’s refreshing to see a novel – and a complex mystery, no less – that says what it needs to say and gets out."

But if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists.

The Best Megaplex on Earth had a showing of Jurassic Park last night on the Ultrascreen. It's been forever since I'd seen it, so it was great seeing it again on the big screen. I'd even forgotten that Samuel L. Jackson is in it. Kind of makes me want to see the next couple again.

This isn't a review. I'm just bragging. Next month they're showing Back to the Future and then it's Jaws in March.

John Carter: live-action or animated?

I meant to post this yesterday as an update to the earlier mention of a John Carter movie, but ran out of time. Anyway, The Hollywood Reporter adds some details to the story, like the fact that Disney already had the rights to the property through most of the '90s when they were hoping to adapt it as an animated feature (sort of like they did with Tarzan).

At some point, the project became a live-action movie and Paramount ended up with the rights in 2002. Several directors were attached to it at various times under Paramount's care: Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City), Kerry Conrad (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), and Jon Favreau (Zathura, Iron Man), for example. Apparently, Paramount let the property go last year and it was homeless until last month when Pixar started showing interest.
Pixar's involvement re-opens the question about whether or not Disney plans to turn John Carter into a live-action franchise as Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate says (and Variety reported), or an animated feature. Disney's keeping quiet about it for now.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Force 10 from Navarone

I haven't wanted to "watch" Force 10 from Navarone as much as I wanted to gawk at the trainwreck that I knew it must be. It first got my attention by having Harrison Ford in it, but the rest of the cast is mostly made up of '70s "stars" who were all better known for other, particular roles than they were for actual acting talent. Carl Weathers from Rocky is there. Barbara Bach from Caveman and The Spy Who Loved Me is there. Even Richard Kiel, who played Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. All folks who were popular at the time, but who don't exactly scream "quality."

There's also the interview I once read where Harrison Ford admitted that he took his role in Force 10 not because it was a good part or a good story, but because it was a good career move for him. It was the first time he was able to get his name before the film's title in the credits. Purely a career move, and I can't fault him for it, but it didn't bode well that I was going to like the movie.

Surprisingly, it's not all that bad. The worst thing about it is that Carl Weathers' role is forced into the plot for no good reason, but more on that in a minute. The movie is a sequel to The Guns of Navarone (starring Gregory Peck and David Niven) and I was concerned that Force 10 wouldn't have anything to do with Guns outside of trying to capitalize on the name. Fortunately, both films are based on books by Alistair MacLean, so there's continuity between the two. Robert Shaw and Edward Fox take over Peck and Niven's respective roles and the movie becomes sort of "the further adventures of..." with their characters getting a new mission that piggybacks on another Allied mission being executed by a group called Force 10 under Harrison Ford's command.
Carl Weathers is a soldier who gets caught up in the story as he's being escorted to jail by a group of MPs who stumble across Force 10 as they're trying to sneak off on their mission. The MPs misunderstand what's going on and attack the heroes, allowing Carl Weathers to escape and jump on Force 10's plane just as it takes off. It's a silly way to get him involved and then he doesn't really contribute to the story in a meaningful way afterwards. He's there mainly to be racially insulted by the bad guys and to pout about not being treated as an equal with the members of the unit who are, you know, actually supposed to be there. Still, as poorly written as his character is, Carl Weathers is a charismatic guy and I always like seeing him on screen.
Harrison Ford is great as the no-nonsense leader who may not exactly lighten up by the end of the movie, but does find new respect for Shaw and Fox's characters whom he thinks have been forced on him. Shaw and Fox are the real heroes of the movie though, even if they're not the biggest stars. Fox is no David Niven, but he's got his own easy charm and I liked him in the role. Shaw was the big surprise though. Mainly because I didn't recognize him at first.
Even though I sort of had to grimace and bear through the parts of the movie with Richard Kiel (one of the worst Bond villains ever), that's balanced out by the fact that Robert Shaw played one of the best Bond villains ever, the assassin Grant in From Russia with Love (not to mention Quint in Jaws). I caught on to it about five minutes before the end of the movie (he's heavier and less blonde than he was as Grant, and cleaner than Quint) and it made me want to watch it all over again.
Which is something that I never thought I'd want to do going into it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Princess of Mars: The Movie

I think it's pretty cool that the day after I belatedly post the news about a possible new Tarzan movie, Variety reports that Disney's just optioned the rights to start a John Carter of Mars frachise. That's all I know for now, but it'll be interesting to follow.

Song of Ice & Fire: The Series

Looks like I don't have to be worried about whether or not I'm missing out by not finishing A Game of Thrones. Variety reports that HBO is turning it and the entire Song of Ice & Fire series into a TV show. The idea is for each novel in the seven-book series to be adapted over the course of one television season.

A TV drama seems like the perfect way to digest this story that I didn't have patience for as a book. Give me some cool scenery and special effects to look at and I'll be all there. I'm not subscribing to HBO for it, but if I could preorder the DVDs right now, I would.

Bride of the Monster

So, Glen or Glenda made me feel sorry for Ed Wood. At least for the character of Ed Wood in the Tim Burton movie. In that sense, it made me appreciate the movie even more than I already did for its general campiness.

Bride of the Monster, on the other hand, got me curious about something. There's a memorable scene in Ed Wood where Ed's filming Bride of the Monster and is shouting directions at Bela Lugosi through a megaphone. Bela's coming into a hallway from a door on one side and has to exit through a door on the other. Wood's directions are basically something like, "You leave the laboratory. You're sad that the experiment isn't working. No, no. Not that sad. You must get through that door." Then Tor Johnson -- playing a guy named Lobo -- has to do the same thing and Wood repeats the same directions verbatim. Tor bumps into the wall as he goes through the second door and shakes the whole set, but when the cameraman asks if they should reshoot it, Wood replies, "No, it's fine. It's real. You know, in actuality, Lobo would have to struggle with this problem every day."

It's a hilarious scene that really emphasizes what a sloppy director Wood was. The only problem is that the scene they were shooting doesn't appear in Bride of the Monster. Not unless I fell asleep and don't remember, because I kept waiting for it and it never happened.

That got me wondering about other inaccuracies in Ed Wood, so I checked Wikipedia and it turns out there were a bunch. And some a lot more significant than just making up scenes that didn't exist. For example, one of the most touching moments in Ed Wood is when the hospital kicks Lugosi out of rehab for not having any insurance. According to Wikipedia, Lugosi "made a full recovery and newsreel footage exists of him leaving under his own power." Apparently Lugosi's funeral was a lot better attended than Ed Wood depicts it as well. "Lugosi's funeral was well-attended by his family and numerous fellow film stars, including Boris Karloff (whom Lugosi did not actually hate) and Peter Lorre, who said to Vincent Price (also in attendance) as they stood looking at Lugosi's body in his famous Dracula cape, 'Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart just in case?'"

So, digging into Bride of the Monster has made me a little disappointed about being manipulated by Burton's film. I prefer pretending that everything I see in biopics is exactly how it happened in real life.

As far as the quality of Bride of Monster goes: yeah, that octopus was hilariously awful. Whether it was just sitting there, supposedly looking menacing, like the rubber prop that it was, or having its arms manipulated by whatever actor it was supposed to be attacking, it stunk. Other than that though, it wasn't any worse than Lugosi's earlier, non-Wood, low-budget horror films. I'd put it above, say, The Corpse Vanishes. Lugosi is wonderfully campy in it and the rest of the cast do as well as should be expected for actors of their caliber. The lab set is ridiculous with its flatly painted-on stone wall -- and of course, there's that octopus -- but if you have any tolerance at all for cheesy, old horror movies, Bride of the Monster is worth watching for Lugosi alone.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lost's end in sight

SCI FI Wire has a cool interview with Lost's co-creator/executive producer Damon Lindelof about the future of the show. Looks like 100 episodes is going to be the target for wrapping everything up.

"We knew season one was going to be introduction, season two was going to be into the hatch, season three was going to be the others. I don't want to tell you what season four is going to be. And then there was a wrap-up season, a shortened version, that would put you somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 episodes."

He goes on to say that he doesn't want Lost to overstay its welcome the way he feels The X-Files did. Even though I enjoyed the John Doggett episodes of The X-Files, Lindelof's point is well-taken and I appreciate that he's got a definite vision of what Lost is about and a desire to not let the show go on once that theme has run its course.

"This show is about people who are metaphorically lost in their lives, who get on an airplane and crash on an island and become physically lost on the planet Earth. And once they are able to metaphorically find themselves in their lives again, they will be able to physically find themselves in the world again. When you look at the entire show, that's what it will look like. That's what it's always been about."

Del Toro to direct new Tarzan flick?

This is about a month old, but I just ran across it as I was catching up from all the news over the holidays. Variety has reported that Warner Brothers is talking to Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) about directing a new Tarzan movie. Jerry Weintraub (The Avengers, Ocean's Eleven) would produce and they're talking with John Collee (Master and Commander: Far Side of the World) about writing the script. Apparently, del Toro is interested and sees a fresh take on the character by going back to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original story.

If anyone can pull off a fresh, butt-kicking adaptation of Burroughs' story, it's del Toro (or Peter Jackson). Hope this happens.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy MLK Day (and HND Day, too)

Even though he's outside the realm of what I usually talk about here, I feel like acknowledging the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who makes me well up every time I think about him for too long. It makes me sad that men like him and John and Bobby Kennedy didn't live long enough that people of my generation could've been more directly influenced by them instead of having to make due with their words. Still, words are powerful, and I'm thankful that we have those. But what a tragedy that a few f***holes robbed us of more time with the men.

In light of that, it almost seems frivolous to also mention that today is the anniversary of when Victor Hugo finished writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Or maybe not. If you only think about Lon Chaney movies and Disney musicals, maybe so, but Hugo's original novel is powerful stuff and touches on some of the same themes -- like acceptance and forgiveness -- that King and the Kennedys embraced.

The Phantom Chronicles

I've been enjoying Moonstone Books' series of Phantom comics, so I'm especially looking forward to the upcoming Phantom prose anthology they've got coming out, The Phantom Chronicles.

It'll be seventeen, never-before-published short stories covering a wide range of periods in the Phantom's long history. The press release promises "high adventure and intrigue in the African jungle, on the high seas, and in the city."

The authors are Craig Shaw Gardner, Jim Alexander, David Bishop, Mike Bullock, Ron Fortier, Steven Grant, Clay & Susan Griffith, CJ Henderson, Nancy Kilpatrick, Len Kody, Howard Mackie, David Michelinie, Will Murray, Mike Oliveri, Martin Powell, Ed Rhoades, Trina Robbins, and Dan Wickline. I'm familiar with a few people on that list, but I'm especially interested in reading stories by three of them. Mike Bullock is the new, current writer of The Phantom comic and I'm interested in getting more of his perspective on the character. Ron Fortier has a strong history of writing modern versions of classic pulp characters. I've reviewed some of his previous work for Comic World News. And Dan Wickline is a talented writer who's making a name for himself by writing the last couple of 30 Days of Night mini-series, but is also doing enough other stuff so as to not get labelled exclusively as a horror guy.

There will also be interior illustrations by Ruben Procopio and an Introduction by Valerie Falk, daughter of the Phantom's creator Lee Falk.
In similar news, one of the authors in this collection, CJ Henderson, is also writing an original novel for Moonstone based on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I'm not as familiar with that character, so I'm not quite as excited, but prose books from Moonstone is a good trend. They've got a lot of great properties that I'd love to see developed into book series.

Glen or Glenda

I guess it's just time to clear away a lot of movie-watching experiments that I've been meaning to get to for a while. Blame Netflix. They just make it so easy.

Now that I've got the Star Wars marathon out of the way, I'm onto something that I've wanted to do ever since seeing Ed Wood for the first time in the theater. Being a big fan of both Johnny Depp and Bela Lugosi, I loved Ed Wood, but I always felt like I was missing out on something because I'm not familiar with the actual films of Edward D. Wood, Jr. So, I've been wanting to watch the Ed Wood DVD and whenever it gets to the point where he releases a film, stop the DVD and then watch the actual Wood film.

Yes, it's an incredibly geeky thing to do, but admit it -- you think it's kind of a cool idea.

There are three films that Ed Wood talks about: Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Atom (aka Bride of the Monster), and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Last night we (my wife and I) watched the first part of Ed Wood and Glen or Glenda. In Ed Wood the producer of Glen or Glenda calls it a "stink bomb." He's absolutely right.

Forget about the fact that it's overly-serious and preachy as all get out about the plight of transvestites. Forget the stupid symbolism like when Glen/Glenda's girlfriend is pinned beneath a tree that represents the burden of knowing Glen's secret and Glen, not Glenda, is the only one able to lift the burden off of her. Forget the completely unnecessary use of Bela Lugosi as a mad-scientist-like puppet master who serves as one of the film's three narrators (actually, that bit is the best part of the film thanks to Lugosi's classic line, "Pull the string!"). Forget the overly long use of stock footage, like when a transvestite enlists in the military and we're treated to several, dialogue-less minutes of shots depicting military personnel shooting cannons and stuff. Forget about all that.

What I can't forget about, because I'm still trying to get my mind around it, is the buffalo imagery and Lugosi's creepy viewing of S&M/rape flicks and striptease images (which he follows up by looking straight into the camera with a "See? I told you so" expression as if I'm supposed to have understood any of what I've just seen, much less agree with the film's point in showing it to me).

What's truly sad about Glen or Glenda, if Ed Wood is right about the back-story, is that it was supposed to be a deeply personal movie for Wood, who was a transvestite himself. He was fiercely proud of the movie and really thought that he was showing society something that would change its opinion of cross-dressers and transsexuals. Knowing that, and actually seeing the stink bomb that he made, makes the character that much more sympathetic to me.
I think I'm going to enjoy this experiment.

Soon he's gonna be a Jedi

I didn't mention it before, but my recent re-watching of The Phantom Menace was to kick off something that I'm sure all real Star Wars fans have done a long time ago: watching all six movies (plus the Clone Wars cartoons) back-to-back in chronological order. I've put off doing it for reasons that would bore you, but finally decided it was time.

I was surprised by a couple of things during the experience, especially once I got to the original trilogy (which I hadn't watched since the first time I saw Phantom Menace). Seeing Star Wars so soon after watching Revenge of the Sith made seeing Vader for the first time in Star Wars even more of a thrill than it usually was. I tried watching the original trilogy as if I'd never seen them before and I found myself looking more forward to the Vader scenes than usual. As flawed as they are in some points, the prequels did a nice job of investing me in the Anakin character. (I've never been one to criticize Hayden Christensen's performances as Anakin. I blame any weakness there on the script and directing. He's actually got some very nice moments as an actor.)

When Leia meets Vader for the first time in Star Wars I got another little thrill. "Oooh, that's your daughter and you don't even know it!"

I was also surprised at how easily explainable most of the inconsistencies are between the films. I'm not the kind of guy who needs for everything in serialized fiction to perfectly jive with everything else. I know that inconsistencies occur, and rather than get bent out of shape over them, I find it more fun to try to figure out plausible explanations on my own. For example, Artoo's leg-rockets that he uses all the time in Clones and Sith never get used in the last three episodes. I was actually looking pretty closely for times when they might have come in handy and didn't see any occasions in which they would've made a crucial difference in the story. In other words, he never really needed to use them, so maybe he just chose not too. Another explanation though is that both Artoo and Threepio are considerably worse for wear in Star Wars than they were at the end of Sith, so maybe the leg-rockets were destroyed or disabled at some point between the two. (Speaking of the droids, by the way, I love the fact that having them finish Sith and start Star Wars in the service of Captain Antilles takes that horrible Droids cartoon from the '80s and the just-as-silly Dark Horse comics that followed right out of the canon.)

I won't go into every apparent inconsistency -- because it's clear that Lucas made most of this up as he went along and there are a lot of inconsistencies -- but another explainable one is the conversation that Luke and Leia have in Jedi about their mother. Luke says he has no recollection of her, but Leia claims to have a general impression of what Padme was like. My theory is that Bail Organa and his wife were able to tell Leia stories about Padme that influenced Leia's childhood memories of her mom, whereas Owen and Beru wouldn't have been able to do the same for Luke.

Some of Obi Wan's references in Empire and Jedi to being trained by Yoda are hard to explain knowing that he never actually was directly trained by Yoda, but borrowing his "certain point of view" logic I can let that slide. Obi Wan obviously just likes to tweak facts in order to simplify whatever story he's telling.

Other things I noticed watching the films this way:

The duel between Vader and Obi Wan in Star Wars was much more powerful this time. As I watched it, I was reminded of their duel in Sith and I was able to feel a lot of latent anger and released frustration in Vader. Also, knowing that Obi Wan had learned about the Jedi afterlife from Qui Gon while on Tatooine made Obi Wan's "if you strike me down" claim make a lot more sense.

I like how you never hear Boba Fett's name in Empire, especially since he looks so much like Jango Fett from Clones. If you were watching these without any outside knowledge of the characters, you'd suspect that there might be a connection between Jango and this new "bounty hunter," but you wouldn't know for sure until Jedi. Unfortunately, the revelation of his name comes just seconds before he's anti-climatically killed.

As I expected, the scene where Vader tells Luke about their relationship loses a lot of power if you've seen the prequels. But there's still something important happening there as Vader suggests that he and Luke overthrow the Emperor. Before seeing the prequels, I thought it was possible that Vader was just lying about his goals in order to seduce Luke to the Dark Side. Now, seeing how conflicted Anakin was about joining Palpatine in the first place, I'm pretty certain that he meant what he said.

I love how every time I look at the Emperor now, I remember that it was Samuel L. Jackson who gave him that face.
The scene where Luke tells Leia that she's his sister is still the clunkiest, worst written and acted scene in the history of cinema.

I'll finish up with a word about tinkering. I've never blamed Lucas for wanting to mess around with and adjust the movies. With the exception of Greedo's shooting first, I've agreed with the changes Lucas made. I wasn't sure, though, when I started out on this little experiment, how I was going to feel about Lucas' putting Hayden Christensen in at the end of Jedi with Yoda and Obi Wan. Part of me just felt like enough was enough and that Lucas should just leave it alone. I was totally wrong though.

Putting young Anakin in was absolutely the right thing to do. With no disrespect to Sebastian Shaw (who played "Old Anakin"), that final scene in Jedi is infinitely more powerful seeing the now-familiar, young Anakin standing there, almost sheepishly, as if the character knows he's not really worthy, beside Yoda and Obi Wan. It's a beautiful, satisfying moment.

It was also satisfying to see Naboo added in to the montage of planets celebrating the Emperor's defeat.

And, was it my imagination, or was Temuera Morrison's (Jango Fett) voice dubbed in for Boba's voice in Empire? And the Emperor in Empire sounded a lot like Ian McDiarmid. Did they dub him in too, or do McDiarmid and Clive Revill (the original voice of the Emperor in Empire) just sound a lot alike?

Anyway, I like the tinkering (again, with the exception of Greedo's shot, but I can just blink during that scene and pretend that it never happened). I'm irritated by the complaining I've heard from fans about how certain actors' performances weren't used or were wiped out because of Lucas' changes. As if Lucas somehow owes these actors something.

I saw an interview with Johnny Depp once in which he claimed that there are many of his movies that he's never seen. The reason is that Depp understands his role in the making of a film. He's an actor, one contributor to a project that's got a lot of other contributors. He's hired to play a character and that's his one and only contribution to the film. If he starts thinking of himself as more than that, as if his contribution somehow entitles him to more than a paycheck, he'd go nuts the same way that these fans are going nuts. If he's worried about how his performance is going to be used in the final product, better to just not see it than obsess over what should've been done differently.

My point here is that Lucas hired a bunch of different people to play different aspects of Boba Fett, the Emperor, and Anakin/Vader. He paid those folks for their performances and he should be able to use or discard or change around whatever pieces of those performances that he likes. He doesn't owe any of those actors anything and the professionals among them would agree.

One last thing that watching all these movies together did was to reignite my interest in reading Star Wars novels and comics. I really do love the Star Wars universe and would love to spend more time in it. Unfortunately, I don't have time to do that and also read anything else in my life ever again (something that the publishers of Star Wars literature have very carefully seen to), so I'm just going to ignore the urge until it goes away.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Oh, yeah...

You know, I almost don't care if they rescue Jack or not.

King of the Impossible

SCI FI Channel has announced that they've green-lighted production on a Flash Gordon TV series. Production is supposed to start in Canada soon so that the show can premiere in July.

No word on casting or anything like that yet, but they do say that the show will be modernized (as opposed to being set in the '30s or something like that). That doesn't thrill me, since a large part of Flash's charm is the pulpy designs of his ships and weapons and whatnot. Another shaky part of it is that it's being produced by the Legend of Earthsea guys who angered fans with their adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's book. We'll see though.

A History of 007

Just gonna be quick posts today. Beeezy busy day.

Here's a great article about the history of the Bond movie franchise with special attention to how awesome Daniel Craig is.

The only criticism I have about the article is that the writer suggests that George Lazenby "left" the Bond franchise because it seemed played out. The truth is that Lazenby wasn't invited back after On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I forget if the producers let him go before or after they realized they could get Sean Connery to do one more film, but either way, it wasn't like Lazenby had a choice in the matter.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'm SORRY, LiveJournal

I decided to go back and add some labels/tags to old posts and have only just now discovered that doing so has completely spammed the Friends List of anyone who subscribes to this blog on LJ. I'm really really sorry. I won't do that any more.

Because the Shat can do whatever he wants!

I love this story. After everyone who's even remotely involved in the new Star Trek movie has remained extremely tight-lipped about what it's going to be about, William Shatner blabs it all and confirms that fan-speculation is correct. It's going to be about young Kirk and Spock during their Starfleet Academy days.

Apparently J.J. Abrams asked Shatner to be in the movie as long as they can figure out how to "put the dead captain in with the young captain."

And just in case you think I'm making fun, William Shatner is right up there with Adam West as my Top Two Favorite TV Actors of All Time. They can do no wrong and as much as I also love J.J. Abrams, the secrecy about the new movie's concept was getting old. Good on Shatner for ending it.

Speaking of Rocky

I've been nervous about seeing Rocky Balboa. I just don't want to be taken again in like I was on Rocky IV and V. (I thought Rocky V "didn't suck" for a long time until I realized that was only in comparison to Rocky IV).

My friend Jody though (whom I trust) says to see it if you can leave your cynicism at the door, and I think I can do that. Most of the critics like it. Now Brad Meltzer says he likes it too (and offers his opinions of the other Rocky films by way of comparison). I feel like the one kid on the edge of the pool who's afraid to jump in even though all his friends are in the water encouraging him to do it.

Anyone else wanna throw their two cents in?

My my, this here Anakin guy

I re-watched Phantom Menace last week and realized what it's big problem is. And no, it's not Jar Jar.

I love Phantom Menace. The coolness of Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, and Darth Maul more than make up for Jar Jar (though I'm nowhere near as annoyed by him as popular opinion is) and the unevenness in the acting of Jake Lloyd, and the special effects and art direction are amazing. It feels like a Star Wars movie, and that's the most important thing to me. Still, I've always found watching it to be a vaguely unsatisfying experience.

Some have questioned what the movie is really about. "A trade dispute?" they ask. "Really?" Well, no. Of course not. That would be boring. The movie's not about the trade dispute. That's like saying that Casablanca is about exit visas or that Pulp Fiction is about Marsellus Wallace's briefcase. Those are just the things that keep the story moving. But the fact that people have to ask what Phantom Menace is about is its major flaw, I think. Because really, just from watching the movie, it's not very clear.

Star Wars (I'm too old and stubborn to refer to the first film as A New Hope) is clearly about Luke Skywalker's leaving his old, boring life behind and setting out to become a hero. But in Phantom Menace, it's a little more difficult to see who the main character is. Obi Wan is the only character who appears throughout the entire movie, but it's really not about him. He's just there to support the other characters who do all the real work, and to be there at the end to pick up for Qui Gon. He doesn't go through any significant change during the movie. Qui Gon's an even less likely candidate since he starts off the movie being perfect and, well, we know he ends up.

The real hero of the film is Amidala. The trade embargo is all about harming Naboo, and Amidala represents Naboo. Several times during the film she makes statements to that effect. "I will not condone a course of action that will lead us to war." "I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee." That kind of thing. The liberation of Naboo (and so, Amidala), almost entirely through Amidala's actions, is the movie's real plot. Unfortunately, we don't learn anything about Amidala in the film. She spends all but the final third of the movie in disguise (for reasons that -- let's face it -- are a little vague and weird), so we don't get to know her as a character. In fact, that's a major problem with all three prequels. We get that Amidala is a great lady and we want to know her better, but regretably, we never really figure out what makes her tick. So, as integral as she is to what's going on in Phantom Menace, it's not her story either.

It takes George Lucas' explaining it to figure it out, and it's never a good thing when an author has to step out of the story to explain a major point to his audience. Lucas has told us for years that the prequels -- heck, the whole series of movies -- is Anakin's story. And it fits that he's the central figure of Phantom Menace. It's the story of not only Naboo's liberation from the Trade Federation, but of Anakin's from slavery on Tatooine. And his liberation is largely due to his own actions, so he's also a hero (though his heroism saves only himself and not a whole planet like Amidala). It's his idea to help Qui Gon and company to leave Tatooine, and obviously it's his use of the Force that not only motivates Qui Gon's interest in him, but also wins the pod race and provide the means of everyone's escape.

The problem is that we don't meet Anakin until halfway through the movie. We do get to know him better than we do Amidala, but if it's Anakin's story, what's with all this prologue stuff about the Federation and Naboo? No wonder people lose sight of the movie's point and have to wonder what it's about. Rather than start the movie focused on Qui Gon and Obi Wan, from a storytelling perspective, wouldn't it have been better to spend that time on Anakin?

Or, better yet, spend it on Amidala. Let us see why she cares so much for her people. Let us see why it's a good idea to spend so much time in disguise while a decoy does your talking for you. Let us see why she would have a soft spot for a kid like Anakin.

Either of those would've been better choices than what the movie actually does. By focusing on Qui Gon and Obi Wan, the movie's main heroes -- Amidala and Anakin -- become mystery characters that we have to figure out along with the Jedi. Lucas builds his whole story around supporting, peripheral characters and that' s Phantom Menace's big flaw. It's like telling the story of Rocky entirely from Paulie's perspective, or focusing The Godfather on Tom Hagen.
Don't get me wrong. It's still a cool movie. I'm glad to have been able to see Qui Gon and Obi Wan whup up on as many droids as I did. But, unlike a couple of the other Star Wars films, it still leaves me feeling a little empty inside and this is why I think that is.

I'm gonna need a hacksaw

Got a press release from McFarlane Toys today that they're going to start making action figures based on the show 24. They're starting out with a couple of Jack Bauer box sets that'll be similar to the Lost box sets that McFarlane's already doing. Basically, the "action" figure will feature Jack in a specific pose from a specific scene in the series and will come with a diorama background.

They're expected to hit shelves in August and December of this year. Sorta makes me wish I still watched the show.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

But I know the hat will

Over Christmas I got way behind on keeping up with the news, so I'm still catching up. For instance, my pal Grant posted something in his LiveJournal about the fourth Indiana Jones movie's moving forward again. George Lucas said in a quick interview that filming would begin this year and that they're shooting for a May 2008 release.

Since then, Variety has firmed up some details. Apparently, the script by David Koepp (Spider-Man, War of the Worlds) has been finalized and filming starts in June. I'm a little vague on whether or not Steven Spielberg has been confirmed as director for the film, but he does say that he's very pleased with how the script turned out and that it was "well worth the wait." Harrison Ford says he's up to the physical challenge of the role. "I'm delighted to be back in business with my old friends," he said. "I don't know if the pants still fit, but I know the hat will."

Link du Jour: Dan Taylor

When I first met Dan Taylor he was just another guy on Steve Niles' message board, but before I knew it he was writing and publishing a hilarious comic called Super Hero Happy Hour (later shortened to Hero Happy Hour). It was about superheroes who hung out at a neighborhood bar during their down time. Sort of Justice League meets Cheers.

It only lasted several issues before going on hiatus, but it wasn't long after that that Dan was hired as an editor by IDW Publishing. Now he's editing their new line of Star Trek books.

Dan's a great guy and I'm sure he's a terrific editor, but he's also a talented writer and I'm hoping to see more from that side of him soon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Film Crew

Mourn for Mystery Science Theater 3000 no longer. The Film Crew is here.

Mike Nelson (Mike), Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot), and Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) have formed The Film Crew in an endeavor to do exactly what they did on MST3K: comment on bad movies as you watch them.

The first DVD will be released in April 2007, but which movie will be on it is determined by a vote on the Film Crew's website. Nominees are The Giant of Marathon, Hollywood After Dark, Killers from Space, and The Wild Women of Wongo. You can check out a couple of minutes of each film (complete with commentary, though sadly lacking silhouettes of the commentators at the bottom of the screen) on the site to help you decide, but why anyone would vote for something besides The Wild Women of Wongo is beyond my capacity to comprehend. Still, the world is full of freaks...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Review: Spy Kids movies

I'm really in the mood for some crazy spy stuff lately. Casino Royale totally fixed everything that's been wrong with the James Bond franchise because it brought the movies into alignment with my beloved Fleming books. But it also means that there's a hole that needs filling. There's a place in this world for over-the-top, wanna be world-conquerors, scantily clad vixens, impossible gadgets, and mind-blowing stunts. I don't want Bond movies to be that place, but I certainly want those things to exist somewhere.

The Spy Kids movies make a good go at filling that void. They're family movies, so forget the scantily clad vixens (Carla Gugino is gorgeous, but unfortunately, no bikini), and the stunts are all CGI, so don't expect too much there, but there are gadgets and over-the-top villains galore and it's been a long time since I've seen such sheer imagination thrown up on a movie screen. Whether it's Alan Cumming as the Willy Wonka-like host of a children's TV show or Steve Buscemi on a mysterious, Ray Harryhausen-inspired island or Sylvester Stallone playing four different roles -- all in desperate need of a hug from Ricardo Montalban -- Robert Rodriguez tosses influences and ideas into the films like a crazy man. And that's a good thing, by the way.
The movies really do need to be seen in order though. My pal Dave saw just the last one and didn't care for it, but I really think that's because he didn't know what to expect. Out of context, it does feel like a lame video-game rip-off, but when you know what Rodriguez did with the first two movies, the third one fits in perfectly as yet another celebration of everything that makes us smile.

To See: My Name is Bruce

I'm sometimes the last to know these things, but just in case you haven't heard either: adventure hero extraordinaire Bruce Campbell is directing a movie called My Name is Bruce in which he plays himself, the real Bruce Campbell. When he's mistaken for his Ash character from the Evil Dead movies, some folks ask him to help fight a monster in rural Oregon. Details are sketchy, but it looks like most folks anticipate a direct-to-DVD release.

In other Bruce news, looks like Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of the She Vampires may be more than just a gag in the credits of Bubba Ho-Tep. Okay, that's more rumor than news, but here's hoping.

Link du Jour: Gail Simone

I've talked about Gail Simone before on this blog, so I'll keep it brief this time. Gail took over writing DC's Birds of Prey comic at a time when I was struggling to stay interested in it. I'd started reading Birds of Prey because I was a Black Canary fan and she was a cast member, but the focus of the series was usually on someone else. Gail changed that and not only gave my favorite character more attention; she also did great things with the dialogue, giving the all-female team a sort of Sex in the City/Gilmore Girls vibe.

Gail's said a couple of times that her success with the series is due to her caring so much about the characters in it. It's that attention to fun and interesting characters that makes me such a fan of her work; not just Birds of Prey, but all of it. She knows how to create an intriguing plot too, but I'd be perfectly happy reading an issue in which she had a bunch of characters do nothing but have lunch.

Friday, January 05, 2007

To Read: Thrilling Detective Heroes

Chalk up another Wish Lish entry thanks to Bookgasm, and specifically to novelist/Bookgasm contributor Ed Gorman. Last month, Ed reviewed Thrilling Detective Heroes, an anthology of B- and C-list detective stories in which "protagonists... are differentiated from the other protagonists through some kind of angle or gimmick" and "good vs. evil (is fought) with prim good girls and sexy bad girls, told in short explosive scenes that race toward even more explosive endings."

"There’s also," Ed says, "a long and really engrossing introduction that charts the history of the thrilling pulps."

Link du Jour: S.J. Rozan

I first heard of S.J. Rozan after her book Winter and Night won the Edgar Award. I hate picking up series in the middle, so I went back and started reading her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries from the beginning starting with China Trade. I've been hooked ever since.

It's amazing how Rozan can change her voice from book to book. The first person narrative switches between her two detectives from novel to novel. Lydia Chin stories are optimistic and light-hearted, while being packed with insight into the life of an American Born Chinese woman. You'd think that Rozan was Chinese herself.

Then again, from reading the Bill Smith stories, you'd think that Rozan had actual experience being a hard-boiled, middle-aged man. On those books, she's a modern day Chandler or Hammett. She doesn't spoof or parody or even echo those guys; she just uses words in a similar way to create the same kind of mood those guys did.

Bill and Lydia appear in each others' stories, so it's also fascinating to see how dark Bill is when he's narrating his own tale juxtaposed with the way Lydia sees him when she's telling the story. Conversely, Lydia is much less confident in herself when she narrates than she appears to be from Bill's point of view. Any novelist wanting to write convincingly diverse characters should study Rozan's work.

And so should any mystery writer who wants to learn how to pace a mystery without giving away too much at the beginning, or holding back so much that it comes out of nowhere at the end. Rozan is a master at feeding you all the necessary clues to solve the mystery, but keeping you so distracted by the entertaining characters that you don't pay enough attention to the clues and risk spoiling the ending for yourself.

Review: The Dust Factory

I don't remember why I had The Dust Factory in my queue. It's about a kid named Ryan who falls off a bridge and drowns and finds himself transported to a sort of limbo world (the titular "Dust Factory") between life and death. Maybe it was the fantasy world that originally attracted me; I don't know.
Whatever it was, it unfortunately didn't connect with me when I actually saw the movie. The movie is about grief and it's very possible that I didn't get it because I haven't yet lost anyone really close to me. Ryan hasn't spoken since witnessing the accident that killed his father, so he's profoundly affected by that loss. His grandmother (to whom he was also close) has also recently died, but his grandfather -- who has Alzheimer's -- doesn't even seem to realize it. His mom is sensitive to her son's feelings, but she's remarried, so there might be some feelings of betrayal going on in this kid too, which would represent yet another kind of loss. Writer/director Eric Small obviously put a lot of thought into this theme.
Where the movie loses me is when Ryan arrives in the Dust Factory. It's a beautiful, quiet place that looks just like the world did when Ryan left it. His grandfather is there, and since he doesn't suffer Alzheimer's in the Dust Factory, he and Ryan are able to communicate and form a relationship for the first time. There's also a young girl named Melanie (played by Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader from Heroes, even more under-aged here) who's been in the Dust Factory for a while and refuses to move on. People who tire of life in the Dust Factory are given the chance to go to a circus Big Top and try to complete a routine on the flying trapeze. If they complete it, they die permanently and are sent to the afterlife (the movie wisely never tries to explain what that is), but if they fall, they hit the floor in a cloud of dust and are sent back to the world of the living. Melanie is afraid of even trying and her distrust of the process rubs off on Ryan. And I guess that's what really has me scratching my head.
The Dust Factory is a beautiful place, but it's also a lonely one. Especially for Melanie before Ryan showed up. What's keeping her there? Since the afterlife is never defined, maybe it's a fear of the unknown. If you complete the trapeze routine, do you go to heaven, or hell? Or do you just cease to exist? I suppose those questions might keep someone off the trapeze bars. Or maybe it's fear of that fall that sends you back to the living. No one who takes that fall ever screams or seems to be in pain, but it's still got to be a pretty terrifying drop.
The thing is that Melanie never explains her anxiety about the process and Ryan buys into it unquestioningly. Maybe that's to make us think and ask the very questions that I'm asking here. I buy that explanation just because it's so apparent that Small didn't write this thing in a hurry. Everything seems deliberate, even if I'm not picking up on all the details. So, maybe my real problem is that I saw a movie that starred a couple of young teens and immediately expected something light and fluffy and easily explained, instead of the dark, complicated movie that The Dust Factory really is.
I'm still not saying that I liked it, but I'm also not willing to say it isn't good. It is a good film; just not what I expected or wanted. A second viewing might increase my appreciation for it.

Writing is Hard: Review guidelines

After my post the other day about critics, a buddy of mine made a comment on the LiveJournal feed that let me know that I hadn't been clear on something. I do believe that it's appropriate for critics to talk about their own experiences and opinions and how those color a particular review. That kind of thing helps the reader know where you're coming from so that they can also know how likely they are to agree with you. My point in the post was that your review can't be just a bunch of personal reactions. For the review to be useful, at some point you've got to actually talk about specific merits and flaws of the work you're reviewing.

Anyway, clarifying that made me remember that I once wrote some review guidelines for people who want to write reviews for Comic World News. They're heavily influenced by Johanna Draper Carlson's article "How to Review," which is also worth reading for anyone interested in this kind of thing, but I also include some of my own observations.

Here's mine (slightly edited to remove requirements that are specific to CWN style):

Reviews should be between 500 - 1500 words, but this is a somewhat flexible rule. Some books, particularly anthologies, require longer reviews, but those should be the exception.

Please use short paragraphs. Densely packed text is unreadable on a computer screen.

Reviews shouldn’t just say what you think about the story. They should also be interesting to read. Start reviews with some kind of hook. Something that will make people want to read the rest of the review.

Summarizing the plot of the story is necessary, but keep it brief and spoiler-free. Imagine that you’re writing the blurb for the back cover of a book. No more than one or two paragraphs. If you can do it in a couple of sentences, that’s even better. If it’s impossible to sum up a plot without spoiling it, that’s your call, but include a spoiler warning.

Discuss what the story does well (if anything) as well as its flaws (if any). Do this in reference not only to the plot, but also the pacing, the dialogue, the characterization, and the sheer entertainment value. Give specific examples of successes and failures. Don’t forget to talk about the art. You don’t have to have studied art to know if things look the way they should or whether or not panel layout is confusing. Talk about word balloons and lettering if there’s something noteworthy there – positive or negative.

Don’t be afraid to trash a story if it doesn’t do anything well, but this should be rare. Don’t be afraid to gush if it hits every single one of your buttons, but this should be even more uncommon. Don’t be afraid to reveal your personal reasons for having a particular reaction to a story. Your personal experiences and baggage color your reviews and it’s only fair to get that stuff in the open so that readers can more accurately decide if their experience will be similar to or different from yours. They don’t need your life story; just enough so that they know where you’re coming from.

Never trash a creator. Stick to commenting on the merits and flaws of the story.

It’s okay to sound like you know what you’re talking about. You should. Just don’t talk down to your readers. Always remember that you’re doing this for them. In that light, let your sense of humor and personality show. You’re not writing an encyclopedia entry.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Happy Three-and-a-Half Dwarves Day!

Jacob Grimm would've been 222 years old today. Although Heath Ledger played him as the younger Grimm brother in the Terry Gilliam movie, Jacob was actually a year older than his brother Wilhelm. The two of them collected and published Grimm's Fairy Tales in 1812. The book included classics like Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Tom Thumb, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Rumpelstiltskin.

Slightly different versions of some of their stories had already been collected and adapted by Charles Perrault over a hundred years earlier.

Getcher Shadow

You've probably heard all the rumor and hullaballoo over the possibility of Sam Raimi's directing a mega-pulp movie featuring The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Avenger. Well, as cool as that might be, cooler still is a reminder that my friend Joe sent me as a result of everyone's talking about these characters.

Anthony Tollin still has the rights to reprint the original Shadow and Doc Savage books, and he's posted an updated publishing schedule and ordering process here.

Link du Jour: Arturo Pérez-Reverte

I didn't waste a lot of time getting to the theater to see The Ninth Gate. I mean, the main character was a "book detective," someone who hunted down rare and unique volumes. Combining detective-work with a love of books was a sure-fire way of getting my attention. Especially with Johnny "The Coolest Man in the Universe" Depp playing the detective.

Too bad the movie blew.

It was great up until the overly fantastical ending that came out of nowhere and left me scratching my head, partly over trying to figure out what had just happened exactly, but mostly over what the heck the screenwriters must've been on when they wrote it. It ruined the rest of the film for me (the biggest crime of all), but I thought that it was so weirdly different from the rest of the movie that maybe the book it was based on, The Club Dumas, ended another way. Someone had already recommended The Club Dumas to me, so I decided that I had to figure this out. Even if the book and movie ended the same way, maybe it would make more sense in the book.

I'm not gonna ruin the book, because it's now one of my favorite novels of all time, so I'll just say that it's much more satisfying than the movie and leave it at that. It's got everything the movie has: the mystery, the suspence, the intrigue, the love of books, the danger; but it's also got an ending that works, and it has much closer ties to The Three Musketeers (another all-time favorite of mine) than are obvious in the film.

I haven't yet dug into the rest of author Arturo Pérez-Reverte's work, but it's obvious that he enjoys the same kinds of stories that I do: adventurous -- almost swashbuckling -- mysteries that even when they're set in the present have some kind of historical angle to them. I've got a couple on my reading pile right now, and I can't wait to get to them.

Bored of Shannara

I didn't need to invoke the 100-page Rule on Terry Brooks' Armageddon's Children. I knew by Page 50 that I wasn't going to make it.
Even though it was a rip-off of Lord of the Rings, I enjoyed Brooks' Sword of Shannara in the '70s. The sequel, The Elfstones of Shannara, was even better because it was an original story. I somehow got distracted and never finished the third book, Wishsong of Shannara, but I didn't blame it on the book. In fact, I remember being especially intrigued by one of the characters.
I missed the whole Heritage of Shannara series because I always wanted to finish Wishsong first and felt that it might be a good idea to revisit Sword and Elfstones before doing that, only now I was talking about a commitment and there was just too much else I wanted to read.
When First King of Shannara came out, the prequel to Sword, I read it because I didn't have to remember anything that came before it. I liked it and especially enjoyed tying together the threads between it and Sword.
Then Brooks came out with this new series, The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, and I figured that it was finally time to plow through the whole series once and for all. Only, me being me, I decided to start from the chronological beginning and read First King again, then Sword, etc. And my problem was that I kept getting bogged down in the first few chapters of First King.
I hadn't noticed it before, but Brooks fills page after page with nothing but exposition about what's been happening in the world to get you to the point where First King begins. It's tedious reading and I kept giving up. When I heard that he was going to write a prequel series that comes before even First King, I decided that that would be my chance to dig into the series again. After all, this new prequel series promised to bridge the gap between our real world and the fantastic future described in the Shannara books. It would be a great jump-on point and I could let the momentum from enjoying that series push me through the boring parts of First King and on into the more exciting parts of the series.
The problem is that Armageddon's Children, the first book of the prequel series, doesn't begin in any kind of recognizable world at all. Yeah, the city names are familiar, but technology has already crossed over into sci-fi territory, demons and other creatures have already invaded the world, a mysterious "Lady" has already recruited a scattered group of "Knights" to protect the Earth, and a supernatural Messiah has already been born. And how do we know all this? Page after exposition-filled page.
It's the oldest rule in the Writer's Manual: Show, Don't Tell. I'm interested in the demons and the lady and the Messiah and all of that, but I want to see them introduced into the narrative as it happens, not just matter-of-factly be told about it long afterwards. Brooks started his story in the wrong place and it makes me feel like I'm still not getting the whole picture; like there's yet another prequel that I'm going to eventually need to read. And I'm not up for that.


Related Posts with Thumbnails